May, the month that Ralph Waldo Emerson said pulses with “potent blood,” is also a month for important decisions. It’s crunch time for homeowners dithering over whether to put their house on the market, for teens contemplating which college admission offer to accept, or for families pondering where to go on summer vacation.
A big deadline also looms right around the corner for folks weighing the high calling of public office. Election filing week this year is May 15-19.
Because it’s an odd-number year, 2017 is the season for democracy in its purest form: choosing the stewards of non-partisan local government. It’s also a golden opportunity to set aside the ugly divisions of last year’s presidential election.
Anyone with a heart to serve their community can find a pathway to do so; dozens of positions appear on the Pierce County ballot this year, from city and town councils, to school boards, to port and fire and parks commissions. (The only state elected posts are a House seat and a Senate seat in the 31st Legislative District, both of which are filled by appointees.)
For the most part, running for office at the local level doesn’t require a wealth of political experience or a huge campaign war chest. But filing to run should not be treated lightly. The road ahead will take time, energy and in some cases, the guts to try unseating an entrenched office holder. No matter how futile it might seem, this is a noble pursuit; all incumbents should be pressed to answer for past actions and outline future goals.
Let’s hope we don’t see a repeat of the last local election, in 2015, when five big-city incumbents (one in Tacoma, and two each in Lakewood and University Place) faced no challengers en route to re-election. The cities of Sumner and Auburn had no contested races at all.
The Pierce County auditor’s website shows all of this year’s open offices and the range of filing fees — from $1,014.74 to file for mayor of Tacoma to $12 for mayor of South Prairie to no fee at all for the majority of volunteer elected positions outside city halls.
Another essential resource is the 2017 election guide for candidates, which explains everything from yard signs to residency requirements to how to submit information for the voters pamphlet.
Holding local office provides rich entry-level experience in budgets, parliamentary procedure and other governance ABCs for those who aim higher.
Consider the trajectory of the two most recent Pierce County executives; Pat McCarthy served 12 years on the Tacoma School Board before two terms as county auditor and two as executive. (She was elected last year to state auditor). Bruce Dammeier served two terms on the Puyallup School Board before eight years in the Legislature, followed by his 2016 executive victory.
For some who appear on the lower half of the ballot, an admirable passion for grassroots government keeps them toiling in those vineyards for years, unpaid and underappreciated.
Civic engagement takes many forms. Political rallies and street marches can be salutary, as far as they go. But there might be no sterner rebuke to the cynical national election climate of 2016 than a surge of folks filing for local office in 2017, resolved to make their communities better places to live.